Indigenous women on the frontline against climate change

At COP28, Indigenous women leaders from Africa, Mesoamerica and Asia share perceptions of climate change and their actions to resist its effects.

On December 11, Indigenous women from Cameroon, Panama, Kenya, and the Philippines discussed how their ancestral knowledge contributes to Indigenous Peoples’ resilience to the effects of climate change in a side event at COP 28, From the frontlines: Through Indigenous women’s eyes.  The event was organized by the FSC Indigenous Foundation (FSC-IF), the Coordination of Mesoamerican Women Territorial Leaders (CMLT), the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMBP), and the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC).

Indigenous Peoples have been disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change. From the increase in the intensity of hurricanes, forest fires, droughts, and the degradation of soils and ecosystems, this crisis causes serious losses and damages that particularly affect Indigenous women and girls, as it hinders access to subsistence resources and increases the conditions of insecurity, vulnerability and risk to different types of violence

At the same time, Indigenous women have historically been the guardians of ancestral knowledge and transmitters of traditional practices of medicine, planting, and the deep bond with Mother Earth. Therefore, the food security of their families, the good living of their peoples, and the conservation and regeneration of the planet’s forests and biodiversity depend on the empowerment and identity of Indigenous women and girls. 

Around the world Indigenous women are taking action to resist the impacts of climate change on their territories and communities and build resilience, using their ancestral knowledge and deep connection with Mother Earth. 

Voices and actions from around the world

In a panel, Sara Omi, President of the Coordinating Committee of Women Territorial Leaders of Mesoamerica; Balkisou Buba, Vice President of the Cameroon Branch of the Network of Indigenous and Local Populations for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC); Edna Kaptoyo, Grantmaking and Partnerships Officer, Pawanka Fund; and Helen Magata, Coordinator of the Climate and Biodiversity Program of Tebtebba Foundation, shared their perspectives on loss and damages from climate change, the link between climate change and increasing violence, and their actions for resilience. 

Something needs to be done to reduce climate change to reduce the threat of violence against Indigenous women and girls,” stated Balkisou Buba. Panelists explained that Indigenous women face violence due to the impacts of climate change in their territories as they are forced to migrate to cities or walk longer distances to fetch water or wood.

They also discussed losses and damages from climate change. “Language loss is not something you can compensate for, our languages are dying,” explained Helen Magata, noting that language is connected to traditional agricultural practices of Indigenous women. 

In response to these challenges, panelists shared actions they are taking in their communities for climate resilience. 

Indigenous women are doing great work to preserve the ancestral knowledge of our grandmothers. I come from a community that was relocated due to the construction of a hydroelectric dam, my grandmothers have shown that despite the violation of the right to territory we can restore our home and maintain our identity,” said Sara Omi. 

Indigenous women have been socially organizing to collectively face issues, such as access to food with drought-tolerant crops and traditional medicine. Women understand the ecology of their territory, which is crucial for regeneration and restoration projects,” added Edna Kaptoyo.

“Pastoralists use the land for periods so that the soil can regenerate. We also take just what we need from nature. We also use traditional knowledge to predict what is going to happen: draughts, rains,” said Balkisou Buba.  

Helen Magata discussed forest and water management practices in her community that respond the the challenges of climate change and contribute to the reduction of conflict. She also shared the work of a community center to support Indigenous women’s mental well-being. “We do so much for the community and forget about ourselves, but we are also individuals,” she said. 

The panel was moderated by Rabiatou Ahmadou, Political Participation and Advocacy Coordinator at the International Indigenous Women’s Forum.Our Indigenous cultures are cultures of sharing,” she emphasized, highlighting that Indigenous women think about sharing, protecting, and leaving resources for the next generation. 

Messages to stakeholders

Key stakeholders including governments, donors, philanthropists, and social and humanitarian operators participated in the event to hear directly from Indigenous women leaders on their perspectives and messages.

Edna Kaptoyo called for the recognition of the role of Indigenous women in climate resilience. Balkisou Buba highlighted the need to invest in traditional knowledge and involve Indigenous women in decision-making.

Helen Magata said that Indigenous women do not need to be empowered, because they already are. “Knowledge is power and Indigenous women have the knowledge,” she said. The call for stakeholders is to provide spaces and platforms for them to share that knowledge.

Further than the creation of these spaces, both Sara Omi and Balkisou Buba emphasized the need for direct climate finance to Indigenous women to allow them to continue protecting forests, and landscapes and advancing actions towards climate resilience. 

Watch a recording of the event below:

Contact information:

Mary Donovan, FSC-IF,

Tamara Espinoza, CMLT/AMPB,

Andrea Rodriguez, GATC,

Listen to more messages from Indigenous women on climate change here.


The General Council of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di of Panama validates the draft of its Organic Charter

After eight months of work, the Naso Comarca has created an Organic Charter that reflects its cultural values and the protection of Mother Earth.

The cultural values of the Naso people of Panama are embodied in their Organic Charter. The Charter contains the methods that the Naso people use to preserve the cultural and biological biodiversity of their territory, methods to elect or dismiss their authorities and representatives, divide their lands by family and communities, and how they administer justice related to land and the development of the community economy.

The process to draft the Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca began when the Naso General Council approved the project to Strengthen the Indigenous Agenda of Panama (FAIP) in August 2022. Since then, three training workshops to draft and reach a consensus on the Organic Charter. The first workshop was held in October 2022 in the community of Sieyik, the capital of the comarca, a second workshop was held in the community of Drudi in February 2023, and a third in the community of Bonyik in May 2023.

In each of these workshops over 50 traditional authorities such as the Pjoshwega (traditional justice administrators) and Dboriaga (community representatives before the King) participated and explained to the technical commission of the comarca how the final document should be written.

 Second Training Workshop, collection and consensus of information to elaborate the Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di  Comarca, Drudi community.


The elaboration of a Charter is an open, participatory, and extensive process where authorities and community members must express their experiences, opinions, and suggestions so that The Charter reflects a democratic representation of the principles and ideals of the people who create it.

For this purpose, the Naso King, Reynaldo Santana, summoned the technical commission of the Organic Charter, the Naso General Council, and representatives of the 16 communities of the comarca to the workshops to draft  the Organic Charter. The representatives agreed upon the organization chart, the administrative and political body of the territory, and designated  functions to each organizational group.

 The Naso palace, home of King Renaldo Santana, where his royal throne is located. Sieyik community.

Although the Organic Charter had not been written until now, its procedures, methods, and structures have been in place for centuries through the way the Naso people live in harmony with their land.


The technician of the Organic Charter Commission, Adolfo Villagra, clarified that, although there should be a close relationship between local authorities, the No Daga (community police) must comply with the requests of the Pjoshwega, meaning the No Daga  is subordinate to the Pjoshwega and they do not have the same powers to administer justice.

Currently, even though Panamanian law recognizes the right of Indigenous traditional authorities to apply justice, the Naso people still use Western justice to resolve community cases, which takes power away from the Pjoshwega and gives those responsibilities to the State.

 Technician Adolfo Villagra addresses the audience during the second workshop in the community of Drudi.


The Organic Charter also opened new political spaces for women, youth, and the elderly, such as the Women’s Council, the Youth Council, and the Council of Elders. These institutions proposed by the community and the authorities will ensure the representation of these populations in the General Council, which is the comarca’s body for consultation, consensus, coordination, and administration.

Some of the women who supported the creation of the Women’s Council belong to the United Women’s Organization of Bonyik (OMUB), including Rosibel Quintero, entrepreneur of the Posada Media Luna, and teachers Yeraldin Villagra and Gerardina Hooker.

(From left to right) Leaders Rosibel Quintero, Yeraldin Villagra, Omayra Casamá, president of AMARIE, and Gerardina Hooker during the validation of the draft Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca in the community of Bonyik.


From the beginning, King Reynaldo Santana has always defended the conservation efforts of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca. The Organic Charter establishes various mechanisms and projects to protect the environment, such as recycling projects, reforestation, and the creation of nurseries, herbariums, and sanctuaries for different native species.

In addition, he says the Charter also creates a “double shield” of protection for the goddess Tjër, sovereign of the Naso territory who gives her name to the region, because the Naso people are the true guardians of nature.

 For the Naso people, the river is a goddess called Tjër, which also gives the name to the comarca.

One mechanism that strengthens the Organic Charter is the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent of the Naso people before projects that national or international institutions wish to execute within the comarca. This returns decision-making power back to the traditional authorities.


The approval of the draft Charter of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di by the General Council was celebrated in the community of Bonyik on May 2, 2023, in the presence of the King, the technical commission of the Charter, the Pjoshwega and Dboriaga and special guests such as the presidential advisor Andrés Wong and the advisor of the Vice-Ministry of Indigenous Affairs Emir Miranda.

King Reynaldo Santana addresses the public at the closing of the act of validation of the draft of the Organic Charter.

During the last eight months, the authorities, technical commission and residents of different communities worked on 180 articles of the Organic Charter.

According to the president of the General Council, Ignacio Bonilla, the effort to generate the Organic Charter has gone through several setbacks related to the economic capacity of the region to support visitors and supply their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, in addition to convincing its population of the historical importance of the project.

Ignacio Bonilla, president of the General Council of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di, gives instructions on how the methodology for the validation of the draft Organic Charter will be developed.

Partners were also invited to the validation ceremony including the director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation, Francisco Souza, the coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), Levi Sucre, the president of the Mesoamerican Coordinating Committee of Women Territorial Leaders (CMLT), Sara Omi, and the president of the Association of Emberá Women Artisans (AMARIE), Omayra Casamá.

On the value of this process, Francisco Souza of the FSC Indigenous Foundation commented, “Recognizing governance is a recognition of the ancestry of the Naso people. Our commitment to share is to start with the Organic Charter as a first step, the second step is the development of Naso culture and self-determination.”

Francisco Souza, director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation addresses the General Council of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di, to his left are Levi Sucre, Coordinator of AMPB, Omayra Casamá, President of AMARIE, King Reynaldo Santana and second King Ardinteo Santana.

Omayra Casamá, President of AMARIE shared, “The Organic Charter is a guide, it is a method of legality, of security, of telling the government that we Indigenous Peoples are organized, we just had to write it down.”

Omayra Casamá, President of AMARIE, addresses the General Council.


In addition to the Naso Tjër Di Comarca, FAIP covers three additional Indigenous territories and aims to strengthen their political structures by  drafting and publication of their organic charters or internal regulations.

The Kuna Comarca of Madungandi drafted the Internal Regulations of the General Congress and in this process, spaces were created for women and youth to share  their opinions on the decisions made by the General Congress, which is mostly composed of men.

The drafting of the Internal Regulations of the Tuira Region of the Emberá and Wounaan Collective Lands of Darién has demonstrated, among other things, that there is another Indigenous People in Panama, the Eyabida people who migrated from Colombia due to the armed conflict between guerrillas and drug trafficking. This process also proved that coordination between transboundary communities is possible and necessary for democratic territorial governance.

As for the Organic Charter of the National Congress of the Wounaan People, the only political structure that uses the term “nation” and therefore encompasses all Wounaan communities in the Panamanian territory and the only one led by a woman, Cacica Aulina Ismare Opua, has demonstrated the importance of women participating in these political processes.

FAIP is funded by USAID and FSC, implemented by FSC Indigenous Foundation and framed within the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) program, executed in coordination with AMPB, CMLT and AMARIE.